Last summer, accusations of sexual and physical abuse were made public against Rabbi Baruch Lanner, a youth leader working for the Orthodox Union (OU) and its youth group, the National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY). The OU was also accused of failing to act against Lanner, even though numerous complaints were lodged against him over a 30-year period.

On Dec. 26, 2000, the OU released a summary of a report issued by a commission it established to investigate the matter. The following is a short excerpt of the 54-page summary:

The OU/NCSY Culture Contributed to the Leadership's Failures.
The commission believes and has explained in greater detail in the report that the profound misjudgments made by some in the OU and NCSY leadership in theirhandling of Lanner resulted in part from a culture prevalent within the OU and NCSYthat was--and still is--too focused on certain aspects of its mission and inattentive tothe development of serious, professional management.

Among these cultural weaknesses in management were:

  • prioritizing, organization and program growth at the expense of attention to eachindividual participant;
  • a loss of objectivity in evaluating Lanner because of a perception that he wasindispensable;
  • a loss of objectivity in evaluating Lanner because of his personal relationshipswith management;
  • a lack of full communication between professional staff and lay leaders;
  • and a focus on NCSY's positive results without sufficient consideration of potentialproblems.
  • The most striking example of this was that NCSY touted the results ofa professional study conducted by the Lilly Foundation in 1998 which found thatNCSY successfully inculcated its alumni with a sense of Jewish identity, while atThe same time utterly ignoring and failing to disseminate to the lay leadership thestudy's critical findings about the management of NCSY contained in acompanion report by the authors.

    Additionally, the many witnesses who spoke to the commission andwhose testimony is discussed in the report indicated that the OU and NCSY failed tofoster an environment in which students and advisors felt free to report misconductwithout suffering retribution and failed to have in place appropriate reportingmechanisms and processes. There was a widespread perception that complaints would bedisregarded or that the person making the complaint would be subjected to scorn andeven banishment from NCSY.

    Regardless of the accuracy of these views, theCommission finds that the leadership of the OU and NCSY did nothing to create theopposite impression among NCSYers: first, that there was someone who could becontacted; second, that complaints would be handled seriously and sensitively; and third,that they would not suffer retribution. To the extent that members of the leadership of theOU and NCSY did not know of the serious physical sexual abuse by Lanner, they bearresponsibility for not creating a climate that would encourage a teenager to make themaware of such conduct.

    The Need for Reform within NCSY.
    NCSY began in the early 1950'sas a small volunteer youth outreachprogram. By 1954,the chapters that had been forming throughout the United States werewoven by the OU into a national organization, the National Conference of SynagogueYouth. In the early days, the NCSY National Office was able to maintain significantOversight over the local chapters and regions. Over time, the regional leadershippositions gradually progressed from volunteer to paid part-time and, eventually, full-timestatus. The regions thus grew in both number and independence.

    Today, NCSY has chapters in 39 states and 215 communities, divided into12 regions throughout the United States and Canada. Through these it reaches out toover 40,000 high school-aged youths, both in public schools and yeshivas [Jewish day schools], who wish toreinforce their commitment to Judaism.

    Collectively, NCSY has a professional staff ofover 150 individuals, including Regional Directors, supervisors, field workers, rabbis andteachers. Additionally, NCSY enlists the support of almost 2,000 part-time volunteeradvisors. Through the National Office and the Regions, NCSY runs over 750 majorevents annually in the United States, Canada and Israel.

    The commission finds that NCSY's management structure has not kept upwith its tremendous growth over the years. The result is that NCSY has not beenoperated in the professional manner that would befit an organization of its size andpurpose.

    NCSY lacks an effective management structure; true lines of reporting;accountability and evaluation; effective training programs, financial controls; andpolicies and procedures governing critical issues. The Commission thus believes thatNCSY is in need of substantial reform on several fronts.

    Set forth below are the commission's recommendations to the OrthodoxUnion. A few preliminary observations are in order: